As much of a pain as the Wells Street bridge construction is, I think we can all agree that the 90-year-old bridge should get a touch-up every once and a while. I know that doesn’t really comfort all of you whose morning commutes have been shot to hell, but here’s some fun history to distract you.
Chicago wouldn’t be what it is today without the Chicago River, but it wasn’t easy to navigate this major waterway in the 19th Century. Because both boats and people needed access to all portions of the city, engineers had to build movable bridges.
The very first Wells Street bridge was made of wood and cost the city $3,000. It was rebuilt several times, all in wood, so of course it burned down in the Chicago Fire. The first iron bridge to cross Wells was built in 1872 and cost $20,000, and it was rebuilt by the Northwestern Elevated Road with an elevated rail line on a second deck.
The bridge we know and love today was commissioned during the first term of Mayor William Hail Thompson as part of the famous Burnham Plan. It’s a fixed trunnion bascule bridge – basically, a fancy type of drawbridge – that was designed by the city and completed in 1922.
The Wells Street bridge hasn’t had a major rehab since 1955, and it got a pretty low structural rating on the National Bridge Inventory. Fortunately, the bridge’s historic elements, railings, bridge houses and major structural components will be replaced to preserve the 1920s look. While the CTA will only have two one-week disturbances, the bridge will be closed to vehicle and foot traffic until the end of the year.